In my daily work, I often hear business ideas from friends, families, or clients I’m helping. I love their entrepreneurial spirit, and it gives me motivation to keep on going.
But it’s hard to say whether an idea will work or fail. That’s why I always give the same advice: “Build a prototype and test it out first.”
As a business owner, I know how resource and capital intensive building a business can be. Prototyping helps you minimise the risks and ensures you’re building a viable product that will attract customers when you launch. And until you have actual users trying out your product, most of your research are assumptions.
In the UX world, every product design and development process start with prototyping. A prototype is an early model of the product to be created. It can be as elaborate or as simple as you need it to be.
A standard prototype has the following key features:
- Representation: This is the form of the prototype, like mobile or paper, HTML, or desktop.
- Precision: This means the reliability of the prototype, implying its degree of detail, realism, and polish.
- Interactivity: This implies the functionality that is open to the user — it can be completely functional, or partially functional, or just view-only.
- Evolution: This is the lifecycle of the prototype. Some are developed fast, tested, discarded, and then replaced with the modified edition, through a process called rapid prototyping. Others can be developed and improved upon, eventually evolving into a fully functional final product.
Why you need a prototype
The importance of a prototype is perfectly summed up from this famous saying:
“If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.” — Ideo.
Prototypes can be divided into two broad categories, low-fidelity and high-fidelity. A low-fidelity prototype easy and quick to make, usually paper-based, to give a swift preview of the product without testing it. Meanwhile, high-fidelity prototyping looks and works as similarly as possible to the real product. It is interactive and offers insightful feedback from user testers, stakeholders, and potential investors.
You can build prototypes with different kinds of tools like sketch-type tools (for designing), and screen design tools for completing the assimilated design-to-code tools. Some are made with real-time feedback, while others use ideation tools that flesh out the primary wireframe. Alternatively, you outsource to a team or agency that can build one for you as per your specifications.
Here’s why you should always build a prototype first before attempting your product.
1. Prototyping helps you build a user-friendly product
The main goal of your product is to satisfy the users it is intended for. A prototype helps you achieve this purpose. Through continuous testing and improvements, you get a gauge of how valuable, user-friendly, and meaningful the product is for your targeted end-users. Prototyping is akin to a compass that tells you more of what your customers need and want.
2. Prototyping helps you understand the problem further
Often, we misunderstand the problem. It could be because of a bias, having wrong or irrelevant data or clashing perspectives. Building and testing a prototype gives you a better insight to the issue in hand. You’ll gain more clarity around the challenge and what you should be doing to help your users.
3. Prototyping saves you time and money
Prototyping can cut your product build time because you know roughly what the users want. Combined with an agile development process, you will find yourself quickly designing, testing, building and repeat until the product is ready. The better the feedback from your prototype, the faster the implementation will be. And with a faster cycle, you’re likely to go to market earlier, saving you money.
4. Prototyping maximises your manpower
Prototyping also utilises your manpower efficiently, as sometimes design and development can run in parallel. Designers aren’t sitting around waiting for developers to finish coding. They work closely with them to be able to refine and test the design further.
You can engage the whole team right from the beginning and make various prototypes simultaneously. And with a shorter development time, you will end up using fewer resources per product.
5. Prototyping helps convince investors or stakeholders
When you need funding or approval, showing them a proven prototype is the easiest way. And if you have sales from your prototype, that makes it even sweeter. Otherwise, it is quite challenging to get venture capitalists, investors, and even crowdfunding entities to engage in your idea without any working prototype.
With an effective prototype, these stakeholders can have a clickable, interactive model that they can use and test. It justifies your request for funding since it decreases a degree of uncertainty and helps your target audience visualize the underlying profit your product would bring.
6. Prototyping enables cross-functional team collaboration
Developing any digital product requires a close collaboration among all the different teams. A prototype means you can easily communicate the concepts and ideas with one another. Once there is a physical product, it’s easier to give feedback and perceive if the product has a definite limitation.
Reaching the final level of product with the least rework is possible with effective prototyping and timely user testing. Hence, instead of skipping the prototyping and only believing in your gut feelings, create the prototype and validate with the targeted end-users as soon as possible.